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What’s needed for a safer Internet?

The Internet is an interconnected system, yet most users (and even some companies) only see the Internet through the keyboard, hard drive and monitor they use to access it, said Provost Fellow Ranjan Pal, a doctoral student in computer science at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

That’s risky because all the members of the Internet ecosystem, as Pal called it, have a stake in the Internet’s stability. Here’s what each of the players can do to protect cybersecurity:

• Consumers — When buying a computer or portable device, they should also get a basic understanding of its operating system. The operating system is the main gateway to the Internet — all applications, settings and plug-ins work through it. Checking off the proper security settings (including installing anti-virus and other protective software) can prevent problems.

• Government or other organizations — These groups should help users gain the knowledge they need to understand different operating systems (say, between Apple’s OS and Microsoft’s Windows). Better training could help consumers understand their computers, and schools could even provide informal licensing or training akin to a driving school or exam.

• Internet providers — Companies should more aggressively identify the source of malicious activity, such as spam. This may include warnings to offending consumers and possible disconnections from the Internet for repeat offenders (USC Housing Services, for example, has a warning and disconnection process in place).

• Software creators and manufacturers — When designing smartphone apps, developers should consider security measures as well as ease of use. “There’s a tradeoff with apps today,” Pal said. “If operating systems are too secure, many apps will not function on these operating systems.” But interactions between app designers and operating system creators could yield better results. In addition, increased demand by consumers for protective products could provide economic incentive for anti-virus/anti-spam vendors to release more robust products.

• Insurance — Only a small fraction of people and organizations have cyber insurance today, but it could play a valuable part in the future ecosystem of the Internet. If people and companies take reasonable steps to protect themselves from cyberattacks, affordable insurance could then be used to protect against what should be unusual risks.

Read about Pal’s cybersecurity research in a related USC News article. Learn more about USC cybersecurity programs online.

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